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It is Zululand in the 1870s; a bloodthirsty Zulu king is embroiled in bitter war with the English. Witches dwell in every cave and wizards are abroad in every village. The son of the chief of the Tshanini tribe, Benge, is a frail cripple, but he is believed by some to be a magic dwarf, a person set apart, with strange powers. This superbly written novel, originally published in 1957, is the story of Benge, leader of men, caught in a body too small for his heart. It is a tale that bridges the emotional barrier between the reader and the Zulus with greater passion and precision than any factual accounts can achieve.
J.J. Spencer is one of the many hungry young lawyers eager to climb the corporate ladder to the great future awaiting him. With his first annual review approaching, J.J. is confident his keen work for the top Manhattan law firm he is employed by will be praised allthe way to the bank. Until, that is, he gives in to a sudden surge of compassion for one of his clients during a chance encounter at a diner. J.J. discovers how swiftly no good deed goes unpunished: the consequences of his generous impulse snowball and before he knows it, J.J. Spencer has been beaten bloody, arrested for drunk driving, and fired from his job.
The sun was still hidden behind a ridge of cypress and pine. A fog clung like silk to the skin of the water. We had a boat, a kind of long john, that you could pole or paddle to some likely ambush of bass or perch.
The lake was clear and brown as coffee. You could see the bass beds in the shallows, irregular patches on the white sandy bottom looking yellow through the lens of water.
"Gators," Tink pointed casually ahead. About a hundred yards to starboard you could see twin wakes of gators' snouts approaching each other from opposite sides of the lake. The reptiles hunted in tandem, each chasing fish and turtles into the jaws of his mate.
"Should be a good day," Tink's baited hook fell with a lead shot and cork beside a cypress knee.
I used the activity necessary to prepare my line as an excuse for silence. I clamped the lead shot onto my line with a pair of pliers, and sliced the cork halfway to slide in the line and set the depth of my still unbaited hook. "Something you wanta say, Carter?"
This overture came unexpectedly. I tried to take it.
"I don't want to manage mills and timber all my life," I said. "I want to get done with school. Have my own life."
"You will, Carter. Things go well, you'll be back in Atlanta in time for the fall term."
"That's assuming Dave can't stay ahead of his mortgage. What if he can? What if he makes his crop and pays off every dime of interest?"
"That ain't likely."
"You don't know. For all you know he'll make his crop, throw the dice again on Wall Street and be right back in business."
"I'll still have the mortgage," Tink shrugged. "Worse comes to worst we can try again next year."
"I don't want to try again next year. I didn't want to try this year!"
"Did it ever occur you might be owing me something, Carter?"
"I've done everything you wanted. Everything. But I can't do this."
"It's Julia, isn't it? Dave's little girl."
"She's not little. You don't have to be so damned patronizing."
Tink's cork bobbed with a bite. He didn't take that first tease. Just nudged the line, slowly. And waited.
"You aim to marry that girl, Carter?"
Another question I didn't expect.
"We've talked around it some. I guess, sure. But Dave won't let her go. Not 'till he's free of the mortgage."
"Well, he ain't never goin' to be free of that," Tink declared softly. "Not so long as I've got breath to breathe."
"Why can't you just leave me out of this, Daddy? I don't want a quarrel with Dave Ogilvie. Julia doesn't want to think badly of you."
"Julia wants to get away from her daddy," Tink popped his cork gently as a soda pop top on the water. "I don't blame her."
"Let me go, then. Let me go, give me money to finish school. I'll marry her and you and Dave can finish your business by yourselves."
My own line dipped sharply, then. A big strike. I paid no attention. Tink seemed focused on some distant point across the lake.
"You ever notice that sawgrass? On our lake?"
"Sawgrass? How'd we get on sawgrass?"
"You ever notice?"
"Sure I have. 'Course I have. Why?"
"Surprised you haven't asked about it, is all."
"What do you mean?"
"You're studyin' plants, aren't you, Carter? I know I'm not an educated man, but I can make out a transcript. School sends 'em to us, you know. Ever term.
You're studyin' plants a lot."
"Well, yes, I am."
"Mmmhmm. Well, then, don't you ever ask yourself-How'd it get here?
How'd it get here onto our lake?"
"No. Damned if I see what you're driving at."
"Well, sawgrass is a saltwater plant, Carter. Brackish, at least. And this here lake's fresh water, true enough?"
"So how'd the sawgrass get on our lake?"
"God put it here!"
"No. he didn't."
Tink pulled in his line. Cast again.
"I put in the sawgrass."
I looked again to the ragged boundary of our lake. There was indeed sawgrass everywhere. Cladium jamaicense. Our lake was well inland and relatively elevated; we certainly had no saltwater. And yet there was sawgrass plainly visible and familiar all about me.
But it should not be here.
How had such a contradiction escaped me? Why had I not seen this for myself?
"You planted the sawgrass?" I asked my father.
"It was years ago," Tink affirmed. "'Bout the time you was born, actually, I brought some sawgrass back from the coastline. Picked me a mess right there near Deserter's Island, near to the Gulf. I always loved the smell of salt on the water. And the sight of sawgrass."
"So you came back to our lake and, what-just stuck it in the muck?"
"Ah hah. In a little corner. Right over on that point. Where those gators are trollin'. Right over there."
"It's growing fine," I observed.
"That's the problem," Tink spit. "It's growin' too good. That rascal started out in a little patch on that point. Now it's takin' over the whole lake. I even tried burning it out once. No good. And sooner or later I'm goin' to lose my fishing hole because of it."
Posted February 14, 2001
So seldom, so very rare, to find a contemporary author with the literary ability of Wimberley. If you have not experienced the rough scrub, back country of Florida's pan handle, you will capture it in A TINKER'S DAMN. Your senses will rain down about you in feverish torrents of colors, smells, and imagery, then be gripped in a tension of anticipation as the tale's swelled emotions rip the fabric of the characters' lives. This novel of a father-son relationship searching for common ground moves with crushing impact not unlike Turgenev's 'Fathers and Sons', but vividly more. It draws a reader in like a vacuum and never lets go. A haunting. I read it in three sittings, and struggled in between with a constant pull to return to the pages. Revenge, justice, redemption... all interlaced in a fiery meltdown of the characters' wills, and poured out redefined in the outcomes. Loved it. No need to go out 'Finding Forrester'--he's here among us, in these pages.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 15, 2001
'A Tinker's Damn' is the story of a young man growing up in late 1930's Florida--not the glamor of the Gulf Coast but the hard life of the Panhandle. Carter Buchanan is torn between his own desires and the obsession of his father, Tinker, who feels cheated of his birthright. Tinker Buchanan is a hard man who is a good friend, a fair employer--and an implacable enemy. As the story unfolds, the costs of Tink's struggle to reclaim his land, both to himself and to his family, are revealed. One of the strengths of Wimberley's writing is that the reader feels connected to the characters, even though few of us have ever lived in such circumstances or had such events occur in our lives. He evokes the characters' lives with enough detail that they live in our imaginations. (Who will play Tink and Carter in the movie?) This, his third novel, is perhaps the best so far; I highly anticipate his next effort.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 13, 2011
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